Tag Archives: James Edward Newton

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: KATERNICA (2023)

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DIRECTED BY: James Edward Newton

FEATURING: Fran St Clair, Paul Richards, Annabella Rich, Anna Fraser, Tony Mardon

PLOT: A theater student discovers a forgotten one-act play; its production triggers mysterious disturbances in the lives of both her sister, an aspiring actress, and a washed-up thespian attempting to resurrect his career.

Still from Katernica (2023)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Alarming theatrics—both narrative and cinematic—couple with puzzling body horror, resulting in a baffling and unnerving foray into the improbably verité realm of stage-on-screen.

COMMENTS: Fill me in out-of-focus nougat, dip me in close-up chocolate syrup, and call me an Art House Bar. Katernica is a film about a play about madness, and it could only fall deeper into somber-sweet pretension if it were French instead of British. But mysteriously, this languidly jumpy beast keeps your interest. The characters are broadly relatable and interesting; the coat hanger plot frame holding up the story is quirky; and there’s an undercurrent (and over-current) of something strange—and even more so, it introduces one of the most bizarre characters I’ve ever seen on screen.

With a cast of five, everyone’s at least a little bit interesting. Esther shows an academic’s pluck in decrypting an obscure little play. Her sister Eve fascinates with a mysterious pregnancy and similarly mysterious emotional history. Jerry elicits both sympathy and disdain as a washed-up director. The doctor (named, I should tell you, “Katernica”) turns the knob from coldly unpleasant Eastern Eurotrash archetype to something neat to behold. These four are the main movers and shakers in the story, ticking events forward to a mid-film bit of nastiness and the final scene: a monologue delivered at Art House amped to eleven.

But then there’s Mister Case. This guy… the only (admittedly poor) comparison I can make is to the post-encounter Edgar from Men In Black. We first hear him, painfully expressing the importance of saving Eve’s baby, then see him in a blurry close-up. With every line of dialogue, with every movement, it looks as if he wants to rip out of this suit of human skin that so obviously pains him. He has a very shadowy ambition (which comprises the second of the two interesting and weird things about Katernica), and enlists the aid of the doctor—and the unwitting aid of the pregnant actress. As both a role and a performance, Mister Case is unfailingly, and fascinatingly, creepy.

Katernica has its shortcomings. From my modest encounters with theater, I know that Katernica is accurate—but I simultaneously feel that as a genre it’s best avoided on film. But, of course, sometimes a little rough-cut gem happens. James Edward Newton, the director and co-writer, puts before us something both flashily mundane and obscurely menacing—not unlike an unlabeled box of mixed confectionery.

Katernica [Blu-ray]
  • A mysterious play envelops the lives of an ambitious drama student, her actor sister, and a washed-up director in a surreal nightmare.